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Title: The free black experience in antebellum Wilmington, North Carolina: refining generalizations about race relations
Author(s): Richard C. Rohrs
Source: Journal of Southern History. 78.3 (Aug. 2012): p615.
Document Type: Essay
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Southern Historical Association
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IN ISRAEL ON THE APPOMATTOX: A SOUTHERN EXPERIMENT IN BLACK Freedom from the 1790s through the Civil War, Melvin Patrick Ely laments that the study of free blacks in the antebellum South has become "a catalogue of what was done to them." Far too often, Ely asserts, historians have emphasized the legal restraints placed on southern free blacks and have failed to chronicle their achievements. Ely studies free blacks at Israel Hill, a community of ex-slaves in Prince Edward County, Virginia, living on land bequeathed to them by their former owner. He finds that they were treated "fairer than we typically think, more often than we think." In Prince Edward County, at least, "a society predicated on racial subordination never became as ruthlessly discriminatory toward its free black members as it repeatedly proclaimed itself to be." Ely concludes that "the years of national tension before the Civil War brought relative prosperity, progress, and even, in some cases, the fulfillment of dreams" to these free black residents. (1)

Reviews of Israel on the Appomattox acknowledge the significance of its findings but question their applicability elsewhere in the South. (2) Christopher Phillips states, "Ely's book ... challenges virtually all historical assumptions about race and slavery during this time." (3) In the opinion of other reviewers, Israel Hill was unique. Gregg D. Kimball, for example, suggests that "southern urban history ... cuts against ... [Ely's] analysis. While urban studies have emphasized black agency and attempts to assert greater autonomy, such works are also full of real repression and antagonism." Kimball concludes that "the overall tenor of the [southern] city, based on current knowledge, seems considerably more hostile to free people of color than Ely's Prince Edward County." (4)

Wilmington, North Carolina, provides an opportunity to test Ely's conclusions about the treatment of free blacks in a southern town. Located in New Hanover County, Wilmington was North Carolina's largest town during the antebellum period, with a free black population of 6 to 9 percent between 1840 and 1860 (see Table 1). And Wilmington did not have a reputation for racial harmony. John Hope Franklin once wrote that its white residents manifested a "peculiar hostility to free Negroes" before the Civil War. (5)

As Ely found at Israel Hill, there was far more to the experience of free blacks in Wilmington than one can discern from a "catalogue" of state and local laws. (6) Generalizations based on legislative acts fail to appreciate the disparity between the intent of these regulations and the reality of daily life. State and local officials did not uniformly enforce all laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, and not all free blacks fled the state, as the laws encouraged them to do. Moreover, they were not passive participants; some remained in Wilmington, worked, and accumulated property. The story of Wilmington's free blacks must also acknowledge their hard work, their perseverance, and for some, their prosperity. Their ability to endure in spite of legal restrictions in a society based on racial stereotypes requires further study.

As happened elsewhere in the South, North Carolina enacted legislation to restrict the rights and freedoms of the state's free black population during the antebellum period. White North Carolinians, like white southerners in general, were intent on "protecting the slave population from the 'evil and insidious influences' of the free Negro[es]." (7) Because Wilmington was North Carolina's best port and an important link in north/south land travel, local residents feared that their slaves would be even more susceptible to these "'evil and insidious influences.'" As early as 1785, the North Carolina General Assembly required the free black population of four towns, including Wilmington, "to register ... and wear an arm band with the word 'Free' on it." (8)

After 1800, white North Carolinians became more concerned as the number of free blacks in the state grew due to natural increase, in-migration, manumission, and slaves purchasing their freedom. Of these factors, the two easiest to control were manumission and in-migration. Before 1800, North Carolina slave owners could emancipate their slaves in three ways: by will, by the decision of a county court (if it determined a slave had performed meritorious service), and by legislative act. (9) Over time, the General Assembly imposed limitations on county courts and individuals intending to free slaves in their wills. The legislature in 1830 began requiring newly freed slaves to leave the state within ninety days and mandated that only slaves over age fifty could be emancipated for meritorious service. In January 1861--just a few months before North Carolina seceded from the Union--the General Assembly prohibited state residents from freeing slaves in their wills. (10) And free blacks had to work. An 1826 North Carolina law stipulated that any able free black person "in idleness and dissipation" could be arrested and hired out for no more than three years "to reform him or her to habits of industry and morality." (11)

The General Assembly also tried to limit the size of the state's free black population by preventing free blacks born in other states from migrating into the Tar Heel State. By 1827 free blacks born elsewhere who entered North Carolina had to leave within twenty days. If they failed to do so, they were fined $500. If they were unable to pay the fine, they were forced into servitude for a period up to ten years. (12) Any resident free blacks who left the state for more than ninety days were not allowed to return. (13)

The General Assembly restricted opportunities for free blacks who remained. They were unable to serve in the North Carolina militia except as musicians. (14) In 1841 additional legislation denied free blacks the opportunity to own a weapon unless they were granted a license. A new state law in 1861 ended the practice of granting these licenses and made the ownership of arms by free blacks punishable as a misdemeanor. (15)

In North Carolina, it was not Nat Turner's rebellion that prompted additional restrictions on the free black population, but the 1829 publication of David Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble to the Coloured Citizens of the World. (16) Born in Wilmington in 1785 to a slave father and a free black mother, David Walker moved to Boston in the 1820s. There he authored a pamphlet advocating slave rebellion. Within a year of its publication, a copy reached Wilmington. (17) The General Assembly responded by enacting additional laws further limiting the rights and freedoms of the state's free blacks. They were prevented from selling goods outside their county of residence without first purchasing a license. (18) Free blacks were also forbidden to marry whites, cohabitate with or marry slaves, teach slaves to read or write, or play "any game of chance or hazard" with slaves. (19)

In addition to dealing with these legal restrictions, Wilmington's free black population could not always depend on justice from local courts. In late January 1839 Nicholas C. Robinson, a white Wilmington resident, stabbed a free black man to death. Robinson was tried for murder in the Superior Court of New Hanover County, but he was found guilty only of manslaughter. He was then sentenced to serve six months in jail and to have the letter M branded on his left thumb. The presiding judge, describing Robinson as "a lawless and dangerous man," chastised the jury for not finding the defendant guilty of murder. But as one contemporary later recalled, "the times then--: What jury could hang a white man for killing a negro?" (20) Conversely, punishments for free blacks found guilty of crimes could be severe. In 1847 Nathan Connor pled guilty to "buggery." The court sentenced him to be twice given thirty-nine lashes at "the public whipping post" and imprisoned for six months. Similarly, James Campbell was convicted of petit larceny in 1855 and sentenced to be lashed fifteen times and remain in jail until he paid a fine and court costs. (21)

However, in Wilmington, as elsewhere in the South, enforcement of state laws and local regulations was often lax. (22) In 1847, for example, the Wilmington Town Commission had to remind its police officers that it was their duty "to pursue Promptly all negroes found working out without badges & [to] enforse [sic] the penalty of the ordinances." (23) Seven years later, the town council again reminded the police to collect taxes from free black residents who had not applied "to have their names registered, and receive a badge." (24) Similarly, despite legislation intended to limit free blacks' access to weapons, licenses for gun ownership were routinely granted. As late as the 1850s, Wilmington free black resident William Kellogg annually received permission to own a firearm. While local free blacks were occasionally arrested for "keeping and carrying fire arms" without permission, their punishments were minimal. The Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of New Hanover County fined Lewis Martin only a dollar in 1849, and it "suspended [punishment of Reuben Moore] on payment of costs" in 1850. (25)

Despite the stated intent to reduce the size of the state's free black population, the General Assembly and the local superior court continued to grant Wilmington slaves their freedom. James G. Hostler, for example, was freed for aiding one of his white coworkers. On two different occasions, Hostler and Thomas Hall Yates were working on a scaffold more than twenty feet above the ground when Yates had a seizure. Both times, Hostler prevented Yates from falling. In honor of Hostler's heroism, thirty-nine Wilmington residents signed a petition to the legislature requesting his freedom. (26) Isaac Gilliam, another Wilmington slave, was freed after rescuing his mistress from a fire. (27) Other Wilmington slaves emancipated by the General Assembly included Isaac Belden and Isabella and Jane Allen. (28) In 1848 Nicholas N. Nixon requested that the legislature emancipate Sam, one of his slaves. Although that petition apparently failed, two years later the Superior Court of New Hanover County agreed to Nixon's request. A jury concluded that Sam was over fifty years of age and had performed meritorious service. (29) As late as 1859, the same court granted Robert W. Gibbs's petition to emancipate one of his slaves named William. The court determined that William had fulfilled all the criteria required by state law. (30) Free blacks also emancipated slaves. In 1824, for example, Henry Sampson freed his slave John based on meritorious service. Five years later, another Wilmington free black resident, Roger Hazell, emancipated Betsey. (31)

Free black men and women had ample job opportunities as skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled laborers (see Table 2). (32) They provided labor that the local white population needed and would not or could not provide themselves. One free black resident who was interested in emigrating to Liberia, for example, told an American Colonization Society agent that he could not leave because he had too much work under contract. (33)

As in other southern towns and cities, there was a shortage of skilled labor in Wilmington. (34) The town's population growth and a series of devastating fires during the 1840s provided numerous opportunities for free black skilled laborers, particularly in the building trades. (35) Wilmington resident John D. Bellamy later recalled that the carpentry work done on his father's house during the 1850s "was performed by negroes, chiefly free negroes." (36) According to the 1850 census, twenty-six free black men in Wilmington worked as carpenters, nine as masons, and eight as painters. The number of free blacks employed in construction remained fairly constant between 1850 and 1860. Forty-three free blacks worked in these occupations in 1850 and thirty-seven in 1860. Most of the decline was among painters; there were eight free black painters in 1850 and only three in 1860. (37)

Free blacks in the building trades, such as James D. Sampson, Solomon W. Nash Sr., and the Artis and Howe families, were influential members of their community. Born in 1801, Sampson, the son of a white plantation owner and a slave woman in Sampson County, came to Wilmington in 1819. Sampson was freed by his father, who established him in Wilmington as a carpenter. Sampson's business flourished, and he subsequently trained numerous slaves (some of whom he owned) and free blacks as carpenters. By 1850 he was the wealthiest person of color in town. Solomon W. Nash Sr. also prospered. Born a slave in 1779 and manumitted in 1827, he eventually settled in Wilmington and worked as a carpenter. Later, he hired slaves and free blacks and apprenticed orphans to work for him. The Howe brothers, Alfred and Anthony, and Elvin Artis were also successful local carpenters. (38)

At times, there was enough work in Wilmington, often related to construction, to attract free black skilled laborers from other parts of the state. James Boon was a prominent free black builder in Louisburg, North Carolina. He sent his brother and other workers to Wilmington in the late 1840s, when Boon learned that there was work in the town. (39) For the men in Boon's crew, it was expedient to have a white "protector" and local references. Unlike free blacks who had lived in Wilmington for decades, Boon's men were unknown locally. William O. Jeffreys, a white Wilmington businessman, served as their patron. He authored a letter that endorsed Boon's character and the quality of his work. Jeffreys wrote that the "bearer of this ... comes highly recommended to me ... as an excellent carpenter and a man who has uniformly conducted himself with the utmost propriety." (40)

Many free black men and women received occupational training as apprentices. In 1826 the North Carolina General Assembly authorized county courts to apprentice free black children living with pa ... s who did not work. Other apprentices were orphans or became apprentices with their parents' consent. (41) Between 1828 and 1843, Solomon W. Nash Sr. apprenticed at least ten carpenters. Similarly, James D. Sampson indentured more than a dozen carpenters and one seamstress between 1838 and 1858. White residents of New Hanover County also indentured free black children as barbers, painters, wheelwrights, servants, housekeepers, and farmers. (42) Apprenticeships could be mutually beneficial. Employers acquired labor, and some free black children learned a trade and established an enduring relationship with a patron or benefactor. (43)

The 1860 census allows historians to gain an even broader understanding of free black employment than is possible for earlier in the antebellum period. That census was the first to identify the occupations of free black female workers, dramatically changing the occupational totals compared with 1850 (see Table 2). (44) In 1860 in Wilmington, more free black women (118) than men (104) were employed (see Table 3). Women worked to support themselves or to supplement their family income. (45) While just over 6 percent of the jobs held by free blacks in 1850 were in semiskilled occupations, that percentage increased to nearly 37 percent by 1860. Much of that change was attributable to the inclusion of female workers. Of the eighty-two individuals working in semiskilled occupations in 1860, sixty-five (or 79.27 percent) were women employed in occupations such as laundress (forty-six) and washerwoman (ten). Forty-five other women, including thirty-nine seamstresses, worked in skilled occupations (see Table 3).

Free blacks could also earn a living in Wilmington in ways other than the construction trades or laundry and sewing services. "Madam" Mary Cruise, later described by contemporaries as a "Creole--dark yellow" born in Guadeloupe, operated a "sailor boarding house ... [with] entertainment." Patrons were encouraged to ask for "what you don't see." (46) Business must have been good: by 1850 Cruise had accumulated $1,200 of real property. (47)

Through their labor or the financial support of white fathers, some free blacks in Wilmington accumulated property. Across the South, property ownership remained a fight unaffected by legislation. (48) In 1836 several free blacks in Wilmington were assessed taxes based on their ownership of land and/or town lots. Nathan Green's seven town lots, for example, were valued at $960. (49) By 1845 the number of free blacks who appeared on the town's tax list, as well as the value of their property, had increased significantly. That year, Nathan Green owned 500 acres of land worth $1,000 and six town lots worth $1,110. Other property owners included George Moore, who owned 572 acres worth $572; Maria Stately, who owned one town lot worth $150; and James Sampson, who owned four acres worth $1,000 and six town lots worth $2,000. (50)

The wealth of Wilmington's free blacks increased between 1850 and 1860. In 1850 thirty-two free black residents of Wilmington owned $42,950 of real property (see Table 4). Their average wealth in realty ($1,342) was, however, less than that of free blacks in most major southern cities: in Charleston the average was $4,268; New Orleans, $3,623; St. Louis, $3,103; Louisville, $1,518; Baltimore, $1,361; and the District of Columbia, $611. (51) The wealthiest free black person in Wilmington was James Sampson, who owned $14,000 of real property. (52) By 1860, not only had Sampson's real estate holdings increased to $26,000, but also more free blacks owned real property. (53) On the eve of the Civil War, forty-three free blacks in Wilmington (see Table 4) owned $61,300 of realty (an average of $1,426). (54) They had also accumulated wealth in personal property (see Table 5). (55) In 1860 eighty-four free blacks reported owning $29,720 of personal property (an average of $354). James Sampson again owned the most ($10,000). (56)

While the average value of real and personal property held by whites and free blacks differed dramatically, the extent of property ownership among the two races did not. In 1860 the average value of real property owned by white property owners in Wilmington was $7,949--over five times the average for free blacks. Similarly, white personal property owners held an average of $6,946 of personal property--nearly twenty times the average for free blacks with personal property. But 7.50 percent of the free black population owned real property, compared with 10.25 percent of Wilmington's white population. And 14.66 percent of the free blacks owned personal property, while 17.38 percent of the local white population did. (57)

The wealth accumulated by free black residents of Wilmington in 1860 exceeded figures for free blacks throughout North Carolina. John Hope Franklin has calculated that the average total wealth in real and personal property among free black property owners in North Carolina in 1860 was $287 and that the per-capita wealth for all of North Carolina's free black residents was $34. For Wilmington, these figures were $910 and $159, respectively. (58) Wilmington's free black property owners were more affluent than free black property owners statewide. This disparity may have resulted from better employment opportunities for Wilmington's free black population.

The percentage of Wilmington's free blacks who owned property compares favorably with free blacks in other southern cities. In 1850, 4.91 percent of the free black residents of Wilmington owned real property. Leonard P. Curry, in The Free Black in Urban America, calculates the percentage of free blacks owning real property in other southern cities in 1850: New Orleans (6.56 percent), Louisville (4.10 percent), District of Columbia (2.18 percent), Charleston (1.37 percent), St. Louis (1.14 percent), and Baltimore (0.40 percent). (59) Wilmington's free black population rivaled even that of New Orleans in the ability of individuals to accumulate real property.

Ownership of realty was not limited to men. In 1850, 37.50 percent of Wilmington's free black owners of real estate were women, and that percentage increased to a majority (53.49 percent) by 1860. In comparison, Curry finds that in 1850 women accounted for 46.46 percent of free blacks owning realty in New Orleans, 31.17 percent in Louisville, 19.66 percent in the District of Columbia, 17.02 percent in Charleston, 12.50 percent in St. Louis, and 9.90 percent in Baltimore. Curry's explanation for the extent of property ownership among free women of color points to their relationship with former white masters. He concludes that "the concubinage system ... and a closely related practice of settling property upon slave mistresses when emancipating them" resulted in unexpected amounts of real estate owned by free black women. (60)

For Wilmington, employment opportunities provide a better explanation. In 1860 most free black women who owned real property worked in occupations catering to the town's white population. Of the twenty-three free black women who owned real property in 1860, nineteen (82.61 percent) worked. Of the four who did not, two were sixty years old, one sixty-seven, and another eighty. Of those with jobs, seven were seamstresses, five were laundresses, five were washerwomen, one was a housekeeper, and one was a market woman. (61) Free black women in Wilmington likely accumulated real property as a result of their own labor rather than gifts from former masters.

Some of the real property held by Wilmington's free blacks was in the form of slaves. That some free blacks in the South owned slaves is undeniable; the practice had existed since the seventeenth century. There is, however, less certainty about the extent of slave ownership among free blacks and about those owners' motives for personal economic benefit or for benevolent reasons. In 1924 Carter G. Woodson analyzed the 1830 census in an attempt to determine both the number of free black slaveholders in the South and their motivation. (62) Woodson reported that in 1830 in New Hanover County there were eleven free black slaveholders, who owned a total of sixty-eight slaves. One man, John Walker, owned forty-four. More recently, Darin J. Waters has reexamined the validity of Woodson's research in five North Carolina counties, including New Hanover County. Waters could only verify that two of the eleven slave owners identified by Woodson were actually free blacks. Those two men, Henry Sampson and Roger Hazell, each owned two slaves. Waters also identifies another free black who held slaves--Wilmington resident James D. Sampson. (63) Waters was able to determine the motivation for only one of these three men. He concludes that because Henry Sampson's will stipulated that his slaves be hired out after his death, he owned slaves for his financial benefit. (64)

Yet other free black residents of Wilmington also owned slaves. Solomon W. Nash Sr., for example, owned at least some slaves for other than compassionate reasons. His will stipulated that his slave Venice be hired out for ten years after Nash's death. The money generated by her labor was to be divided among his daughters. (65) By 1850 at least seven free black residents of Wilmington owned slaves. The two with the largest holdings were James D. Sampson with seven and Nathan Green, a wheelwright, with six. None of the other five owned more than three. (66) While all seven of the owners were mulattoes, 81.82 percent of the slaves they owned were black. (67)

Like many Americans during the antebellum period, Wilmington's free blacks enjoyed some degree of geographical mobility. Only 96 of the 652 (14.72 percent) free blacks living in Wilmington in 1850 still resided there a decade later. Undoubtedly, some died. Wilmington had a reputation as a sickly place, particularly during the summer months. The combination of heat and humidity, stagnant water, and a constant flow of travelers who passed through town increased the risk of epidemics. Other free blacks did not appear in the 1860 census because they had moved. Mary Howe and her son, for example, left Wilmington during the 1850s and went to Brooklyn, New York. (68) During the 1850s, at least two groups of free black Wilmingtonians boarded ships bound for Africa. In 1852 nine residents left on the Joseph Maxwell; twenty-eight more boarded the Elvira Owen in 1856. (69)

Several characteristics distinguished those free blacks who still lived in Wilmington in 1860. Most were in family units. Clara Campbell and her five children and seven Larringtons, five brothers and two sisters, remained in 1860. Family units undoubtedly provided comfort and security. Employment opportunities and the ability to accumulate wealth undoubtedly enticed others to stay. Sixty of the seventy-seven persisters (77.92 percent) over fifteen years of age were employed. If the accumulation of realty and/or personality was indicative of their affluence, many enjoyed economic success. Of the sixty-nine persisters over the age of eighteen in 1860, four owned real property, twelve owned personal property, and fifteen owned both. (70)

Analyzing literacy rates provides additional insight into the lives of free blacks in 1860. White southerners had long tried to suppress literacy among both slaves and free blacks. The ability to read, in particular, provided slaves access to abolitionist literature and, therefore, whites believed, increased the risk of resistance and rebellion. Similarly, the ability to write facilitated a slave's ability to escape. Whites were also suspicious of literate free blacks because of the information they might pass on to slaves. (71) Given these views, one might expect that few free blacks would be literate. In 1860, 63.53 percent of Wilmington's free blacks over age twenty reported that they could neither read nor write. (72) These results do not compare favorably with literacy rates for whites in Wilmington or for whites and free blacks statewide. In 1860 only 6.78 percent of Wilmington's white residents over age twenty were illiterate. (73) Statewide, 23.98 percent of the white population over twenty and 53.40 percent of the state's free blacks over twenty were illiterate. (74)

The disparity between the extent of illiteracy of Wilmington's free blacks and free blacks statewide was the result of the high illiteracy rate among Wilmington's free black women. Statewide, 54.95 percent of the free black women and 51.61 percent of the free black men over age twenty were illiterate. (75) In Wilmington, the illiteracy rate among free black men over twenty was 47.62 percent, but the rate among free black women was 73.91 percent. (76) Occupational opportunities may explain some of this difference. More men may have learned to read and write as apprentices or as part of their job training. Until 1838, state law required that apprentices, regardless of race, be taught to read and write. (77)

Among Wilmington's free black residents, there was some correlation between literacy and occupation. Those men and women over age twenty who held semiskilled or unskilled jobs or who were not employed were more likely than skilled laborers to be illiterate (see Table 6). Among men, twelve of the twenty carpenters (60.00 percent) were literate, and all four of the wheelwrights were literate. Conversely, only six of the twenty-one male and female unskilled laborers and day laborers (28.57 percent) were literate. (78) It is impossible, however, to determine if literacy was learned on the job or was a prerequisite for some jobs.

Free blacks used a variety of strategies to acquire an education. In many southern cities, they were prohibited from attending public schools. After 1835, the North Carolina General Assembly denied access to public schools "to any descendant of Negro ancestors to the fourth generation inclusive." (79) Attempts to limit free blacks' access to education in the 1830s, however, apparently failed. Among Wilmington's free black residents over age twenty, literacy rates differed little by age. The percentage of illiterate men and women in their twenties was about the same as for men and women seventy and over. (80) Opportunities for education also existed elsewhere. Across the South, some churches taught reading and writing to free black children and adults as part of their Sunday School programs. (81) In addition, James Sampson hired a tutor and established a private school in Wilmington for both free and enslaved black children. (82) At times, parental attitudes seem to have been crucial. In 1860 Sampson, his wife, and his two sons were literate, and all three of his daughters attended school. (83) Conversely, George Moore, who like Sampson was a carpenter, was illiterate; all the other adults in his household were illiterate; and his two children did not attend school. (84)

Just as some free blacks achieved an education in spite of laws against doing so, some white residents of Wilmington treated the town's free blacks in ways that challenge historians' descriptions of repression. At least some whites avoided stereotyping all free blacks and distinguished between individuals within the free black community. For example, in 1835 North Carolina became the last southern state to disenfranchise its free black population. However, the delegates representing New Hanover County at that year's state constitutional convention opposed the change. During the debate, Owen Holmes, one of two men representing the county, encouraged his fellow delegates not to deny the state's free blacks the right to vote. He suggested that those free blacks who "possess property, and are of good standing, ought to be distinguished from those of the class who are vicious and disorderly." In his opinion, an additional benefit was that free blacks would be more likely to report possible slave revolts if they retained the right to vote. (85) When the new constitution denied the franchise to qualified free black residents, the People's Press and Wilmington Advertiser described the decision as "impolitic and unjust." (86)

White attitudes toward the town's free blacks can also be discerned in the religious programs established by local white-controlled churches. (87) As early as the 1830s, the Front Street Methodist Episcopal Church of Wilmington had a sizable number of black members--both enslaved and free. (88) The church sponsored "Colored Prayer Meetings" each Sunday at sunrise, "Colored Love Feasts" the last Sunday of each month, "Colored Society Meetings" the second Sunday of each month, "Colored Leader Meetings" every Saturday, and "Colored Ladies Meetings" every Thursday. (89) Free black members included Roger Hazell, Harry Merrick, John Moore, and James D. Sampson. Merrick, Moore, and Sampson also served as leaders of the African American portion of the congregation. (90) There were, therefore, opportunities for free blacks to assume positions of responsibility in the church. (91) The First Baptist Church rivaled Front Street Methodist in its appeal to the religious needs of Wilmington's African American population. (92) Church minutes from that period frequently refer to "colored" residents being received into the church. (93) Others were called before the "Colored Members Conference" to respond to accusations of spousal abuse, disorderly conduct, or other infractions. (94) Like Front Street Methodist, the First Baptist Church offered programs catering to its parishioners of African descent. A conference of African American members met every Sunday afternoon, and there was a Sabbath School. "Reading the Scriptures, Singing, & prayer" accompanied each conference. Black congregants aided those less fortunate through contributions to a "collection for the Poor" distributed by "the Colored Deacons." (95)

Episcopal churches in town also made provisions for African American residents. White members of St. James Episcopal Church "provided segregated seating and afternoon services for their African-American brethren." Free black members of St. James included Alfred and Mary Howe, Charles T. Jackson, James H. and Elizabeth A. Jackson, James E. Jackson, Maria McRae, Eliza Mosely, Caroline Sampson, Mary Ann Sampson, and John Walker. (96) In the late 1850s, St. Paul's Episcopal Church was established as "a free Church for a mixed congregation." There was a "gallery ... given up to the Colored people," a "colored choir," and a "Sunday School for colored children." As was common in other churches during the period, African American communicants "were orally taught the Church catechism, and to sing psalms and Hymns." (97)

During the antebellum period, free blacks in Wilmington also enjoyed some degree of legal protection. White juries were, at times, impartial in cases involving free blacks, and some free blacks employed the judicial system for their own benefit. In 1828 Michael Burke was confined in the Wilmington jail, suspected of being a runaway slave. He was later released when local authorities concluded that he was actually a free person of color. (98) In 1846 Green Harriss, accused of petit larceny, was found not guilty and released. Two years later, Lewis Martin, charged with the same crime, was also found innocent. (99) In 1859 local authorities accused two free blacks of kidnapping a local slave and concealing him in a schooner bound for New York. The editors of the Wilmington Journal anticipated that "these men will get a fair trial, [but,] if proved guilty[,] we trust that no mawkish sensibility--no legal quibble will be allowed to divert the law from its due course." Subsequently, the trial of one of the men was transferred to a neighboring county, and a New Hanover County jury found the other crewman not guilty. (100) Free blacks in Wilmington also used the local court system to their own advantage. In 1833 local authorities prosecuted a man who facilitated the escape of a slave owned by Nathan Green, a free black resident, and in 1853 James Sampson sued the estate of Solomon Nash Sr. (101)

The most cordial relations were generally between whites and free mulattoes. When Solomon Nash St. (a mulatto) died in 1846, the local press characterized him as "a very respectable man of his class" and noted that he "carried on a large business on his own account." A decade later, another local newspaper similarly praised James Sampson, also a mulatto. The Wilmington Journal described him as "well known here as a very worthy man, and his family enjoy[s] the same character." (102) Another mulatto, local wheelwright William Kellogg, admitted that "mulattoes ... is [sic] stronger alli[e]d to the white man than they are to the Blacks." Where laws based on race existed, he continued, "Blacks do not like the mulattoes." Kellogg acknowledged that he would "rather fall into the hands of my Superiors [whites] than into the hands of my inferiors [blacks]." (103) Local slaves also distinguished between mulattoes and other persons of color. John H. Jackson, a Wilmington slave, later recalled that mulattoes were "called 'Shuffer Tonies.'" Although the exact meaning of Shuffer Tonies is uncertain, there is no doubt that its connotation was derogatory; tony means "stylish and snobbish." Perhaps Jackson's disdain resulted from the fact that some Wilmington mulattoes owned slaves or that free blacks' social standing depended on their ability to differentiate themselves from slaves. (104)

Not all white residents of Wilmington maintained a "peculiar hostility to [that town's] free Negroes," as John Hope Franklin asserted. Most of Wilmington's free black population avoided the stereotyping endured elsewhere as the town's whites commended individual free blacks whom they considered industrious. (105) There were few antebellum instances of violent racial hostility. In the 1830s, white officials and the local press supported allowing some free black men to continue to vote. Later, an 1850 editorial in the Wilmington Weekly Commercial concluded that although many free blacks "are entirely worthless ... some of them are very worthy persons." (106) Another indication of white attitudes was the reaction of the Wilmington press to an attack on a free person of color in Raleigh. The Wilmington Chronicle reported an 1842 incident in which a free black man was taken from his home in North Carolina's capital city and "dreadfully beaten, bruised, and mangled." The editors described what happened as "a disgraceful occurrence" and a "high handed outrage upon law and order" that "has excited a great deal of feeling here." (107)

Ultimately, the most interesting question is how free blacks in Wilmington and elsewhere survived in a region where their freedom and accomplishments challenged the dominant society's racial construct that people of African descent were "lazy, indolent, and thievish." (108) Free blacks in Wilmington shared much with their white neighbors, and the two races interacted on a daily basis. Some were kin; some were coworkers; some worshipped at the same church; some served together on the town's local fire company; and some paid taxes. (109) White men involved in commerce respected men such as Solomon Nash Sr. and James Sampson who were successful businessmen. Perhaps most important, free blacks provided the skilled and semiskilled labor required by the town's white residents. (110) Free black carpenters and masons built homes and businesses, and free black laundresses, washerwomen, and seamstresses offered services to affluent white families. All residents, regardless of their race, were members of the Wilmington community in spite of restrictive legislation passed by the General Assembly in Raleigh. Like the rural free blacks in Virginia studied by Melvin Patrick Ely, the free black men and women of Wilmington, aided by the humanity of some white residents, endured and even prospered through hard work. The experience of Wilmington's free blacks reinforces the need for additional research on the strategies employed by free blacks elsewhere in the antebellum South.

(1) Melvin Patrick Ely, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s through the Civil War (New York, 2004), 438 (first quotation, italics in original), 344 (second and third quotations), 399 (fourth quotation). See also ibid., 283, 436-37. Other historians have observed similar attitudes among some antebellum white southerners. See Loren Schweninger, Black Property Owners in the South. 1790-1915 (Urbana, 1990), 89-90, 140; Joshua D. Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861 (Chapel Hill, 2003), 4-5, 7; and Diane Miller Sommerville, Rape and Race in the Nineteenth-Century South (Chapel Hill, 2004), 103-4.

(2) See reviews by Daniel W. Crofts in Journal of Southern History, 71 (November 2005), 879-81; Gregg D. Kimball in American Historical Review, 111 (February 2006), 169-70; and Christopher Phillips in Journal of American History, 92 (December 2005), 978-79.

(3) Phillips, review of Israel on the Appomattox, 979.

(4) Kimball, review of Israel on the Appomattox, 170.

(5) John Hope Franklin, "James Boon, Free Negro Artisan," Journal of Negro History, 30 (April 1945), 150-80 (quotation on 166).

(6) Ely, Israel on the Appomattox, 438. For an introduction to the experience of free blacks and slaves in Wilmington before the Civil War, see Alan D. Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861 (Jefferson, N.C., 2003), 125-41.

(7) John Hope Franklin, The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860 (1943; reprint, New York, 1971), 184. See also Leonard P. Curry, The Free Black in Urban America. 1800-1850: The Shadow of the Dream (Chicago, 1981), 18; and James Howard Brewer, "Legislation Designed to Control Slavery in Wilmington and Fayetteville," North Carolina Historical Review, 30 (April 1953), 155-66.

(8) Franklin, "James Boon," 164. See also "An Additional Act to Amend the Several Acts for Regulating the Town of Wilmington, and to Regulate and Restrain the Conduct of Slaves and Others in the said Town, and in the Towns of Washington, Edenton, and Fayetteville," December 29, 1785, in William L. Byrd III, Against the Peace and Dignity of the State: North Carolina Laws Regarding Slaves, Free Persons of Color, and Indians (Westminster, Md., 2004), 95; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 59-60; and Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, pp. 36, 127.

(9) Chapter XXIV, "An Act Concerning Servants and Slaves," Section 56, 1741; Chapter 6, "An Act to prevent domestic Insurrections, and for other Purposes," 1777; and Chapter 453, "An Act to amend, strengthen and confirm the several acts of Assembly of this State against the emancipation of slaves," 1796, all in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 34, 67, 132-33; James Blackwell Browning, "The Free Negro in Ante-bellum North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review, 15 (January 1938), 23-33. In Louisiana, manumission for meritorious service was a way to free slaves under the age of thirty who had saved the life of their master or a member of their master's family. H. E. Sterkx, The Free Negro in Ante-Bellum Louisiana (Rutherford, N.J., 1972), 119.

(10) "An act to regulate the emancipation of slaves in this State," 1830-1831; and "An Act to Prohibit the Emancipation of Slaves by Will," January 31, 1861, both in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 214-15, 429; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 20-21, 27; John Hope Franklin, "Slaves Virtually Free in Antebellum North Carolina," in Franklin, Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988 (Baton Rouge, 1989), 73-91. Similar laws mandating that manumitted slaves had to leave the state were passed in Louisiana, Maryland, and Virginia. See John H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia, 1619-1865 (Baltimore, 1913), 70; Russell, "Colored Freemen as Slave Owners in Virginia," Journal of Negro History, 1 (June 1916), 233-42; Tommy L. Bogger, Free Blacks in Norfolk, Virginia, 1790-1860." The Darker Side of Freedom (Charlottesville, 1997), 29; Sterkx, Free Negro in Ante-Bellum Louisiana, 121, 143; and Judith Kelleher Schafer, Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846-1862 (Baton Rouge, 2003), 6, 147.

(11) "An act to prevent free persons of colour from migrating into this State, for the good government of such persons resident in the State, and for other purposes," 1826, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 200-201. See also Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 63-64.

(12) "An act to prevent free persons of colour from migrating into this State, for the good government of such persons resident in the State, and for other purposes," 1826, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 199; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 43; Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, p. 128.

(13) "An act to amend an act, passed in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty six, entitle[d] 'an act to prevent free persons of colour from emigrating into this State, for the good government of such persons resident in the State, and for other purposes,'" 1830-1831, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 218. Similar restrictions were passed in other states as well. See E. Horace Fitchett, "The Origin and Growth of the Free Negro Population of Charleston, South Carolina," Journal of Negro History, 26 (October 1941), 421-37; and Russell, Free Negro in Virginia, 107-8.

(14) "An Act concerning the Militia of this State," 1836-1837, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 270; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 102-3; Browning, "Free Negro in Ante-bellum North Carolina," 26.

(15) "An Act to prevent Free Persons of Colour from carrying Fire arms," January 11, 1841; and "An Act to Amend Chapter 107, Section 66, of the Revised Code, Relating to Free Negroes Having Arms," February 23, 1861, both in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 313, 428; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 76, 78.

(16) Charles M. Wiltse, ed., David Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble to the Coloured Citizens of the World ... (New York, 1965); Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 70, 72. In Louisiana, more restrictions also followed the discovery of copies of Walker's pamphlet. Sterkx, Free Negro in Ante-Bellum Louisiana, 98-99.

(17) Charles M. Wiltse, "Introduction," in Wiltse, ed., David Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles, vii; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 64, 66; Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, p. 128.

(18) "An act to amend the first section of an act, passed in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirty, which authorises free persons of colour to hawk and peddle out of the limits of the county in which they reside," 1831-1832, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 226-27.

(19) "An act more effectually to prevent intermarriages between free negroes or free persons of colour and white persons and slaves, and for other purposes," 1830-1831, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 212; Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York, 1974), 402; "An act to prevent all persons from teaching slaves to read or write, the use of figures excepted," 1830-1831, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 213; Heather Andrea Williams, Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom (Chapel Hill, 2005), 15,206; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 187; "An act to prevent the gaming of slaves, and to prevent free persons from gaming with them or suffering them to game in their houses," 1830-1831, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 216-17 (quotation on 217). The law against gaming was occasionally enforced. In 1840, for example, Robert Gibson was arrested and found guilty of playing cards with slaves. See State v. Robert Gibson and Jim Jaeobs, Spring 1840 Term, Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County (North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, N.C.; hereinafter NCSA), microfilm.

(20) State v. N[icholas] C. Robinson, Spring 1839 Term, Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County (first quotation); Nicholas W. Schenck Reminiscences, photocopy (Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear, Wilmington, N.C.), 136 (second quotation). See also Wilmington Advertiser, February 1, May 3, 1839.

(21) State v. Nathan Connor, Fall 1847 Term, Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County (quotation); State v. James Campbell, September 1855 Term, Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of New Hanover County (NCSA), microfilm.

(22) Sterkx, Free Negro in Ante-Bellum Louisiana, 117; Ira Berlin, Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (New York, 1974), 331; Browning, "Free Negro in Ante-bellum North Carolina," 33; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 81,192-93, 195.

(23) Entry for June 7, 1847, in "Wilmington Town Minutes, 1847-1855," typed transcript, p. 9 (North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.).

(24) Entry for January 17, 1854, ibid., 123.

(25) State v. Reuben Moore, March 1850 Term, Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of New Hanover County (quotations). See also State v. Lewis Martin, Spring 1849 Term, Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County; Court Orders, December 1857 Term, December 1858 Term, December 1859 Term, Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of New Hanover County.

(26) North Carolina General Assembly act, February 16, 1855, New Hanover County Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color (NCSA); "An Act to emancipate James G. Hostler, a slave," January 16, 1855, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 408; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 33; Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, p. 126.

(27) Schenck Reminiscences, 103.

(28) "An Act to emancipate Isaac, a slave," December 14, 1836; and "An Act to emancipate Isabella and Jane, two negro slaves belonging to the estate of James Allen, deceased," 1812, both in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 272, 162; North Carolina General Assembly acts, June 1837, June 14, 1844, New Hanover County Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color; Receipt of bond, June 1837 Term, Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of New Hanover County.

(29) Entry for December 1, 1848, in Journals of the Senate and House of Commons, of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at Its Session in 1848-49 (Raleigh, 1849), 412; Nicholas N. Nixon ex parte, Spring 1850 Term, Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County. For another example, see William M. Kennedy ex parte, Spring 1828 Term, Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County.

(30) Robert W. Gibbs v. [sic] ex parte, Spring 1859 Term, Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County.

(31) Henry Sampson ex parte petition, Spring 1824 Term; and Roger Hasell [sic] ex parte petition, Spring 1829 Term, both ibid.

(32) The number of free black apprentices was greatly underreported. Census enumerators recorded the occupations of men and women over the age of fifteen. Many free black apprentices were younger.

(33) Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 140.

(34) Ibid., 142; Suzanne Lebsock, The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860 (New York, 1984), 97.

(35) Watson, Wilmington. North Carolina, to 1861, pp. 109-10; Catherine W. Bishir, "Black Builders in Antebellum North Carolina," Narth Carolina Historical Review, 61 (October 1984), 423-61.

(36) John D. Bellamy, Memoirs of an Octogenarian (Charlotte, N.C., 1942), 8.

(37) Manuscript Census Returns, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, New Hanover County, North Carolina, Schedule 1, Free Inhabitants (hereinafter cited as 1850 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab.), National Archives Microfilm Series (hereinafter cited as NAMS) M-432, reel 638, frames 593-612; Manuscript Census Returns, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, New Hanover County, North Carolina, Schedule 1, Free Inhabitants (hereinafter cited as 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab.), NAMS M-653, reel 907.

(38) Solomon Nash emancipation, July 26, 1827, New Hanover County Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color; Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, p. 137; James B. Browning, "James D. Sampson," Negro History Bulletin, 3 (January 1940), 56; Bishir, "Black Builders," 451, 456n116; Nancy H. Beeler, "Solomon Nash," Lower Cape Fear Historical Society Bulletin, 38 (May 1994), n.p.; Browning, "Free Negro in Ante-bellum North Carolina," 28; "Wilmington Town Minutes," 192; William M. Reaves, "Strength through Struggle": The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865-1950 (Wilmington, N.C., 1998), 375,408-9, 411,444, 460. John Hope Franklin contends that Sampson was the wealthiest free black individual in the state by 1860; he owned over $15,000 more real and personal property than the state's next wealthiest free black person. Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 228-29; John Hope Franklin, "The Free Negro in the Economic Life of Ante-bellum North Carolina [Part 2]," North Carolina Historical Review, 19 (October 1942), 359-75, esp. 370.

(39) Carter Evans to James Boon, January 20, 1848; Carter Evans, W. Mitchel [sic], and W. Dunston to James Boon, March 6, 1848, both in James Boon Papers, PC99 (NCSA); Franklin, "James Boon," 164-65; Bishir, "Black Builders," 453; Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, p. 137.

(40) Will. O. Jeffreys letter, March 22, 1848, Boon Papers (quotation). See also Carter Evans to James Boon, January 20, 1848, ibid.; and Franklin, "James Boon," 165. The use of such endorsements was also a common practice elsewhere. See Schweninger, Black Property Owners, 88.

(41) "Revised Statutes of North Carolina, Chapter 71," 1836-1837, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 304; Franklin, "James Boon," 152; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 123, 130; Bishir, "Black Builders," 428-29, 448.

(42) See New Hanover County Apprentice Bonds and Records, 1797-1889 (NCSA), microfilm; and Beeler, "Solomon Nash."

(43) Franklin, "James Boon," 154.

(44) The 1850 census collected occupational data only for males over fifteen years of age. The occupation of only one free black woman in Wilmington (a laborer) was identified that year. By 1860 the instructions had changed: enumerators were required to record the occupations of all males and females over fifteen. See "Instructions to Marshals and Assistant Marshals--Census of 1850," in Senate Documents, 56 Cong., 1 Sess., No. 194: The History and Growth of the United States Census, Prepared for the Senate Committee on the Census (Serial 3856; Washington, D.C., 1900), 152; and "[Instructions to Marshals and Assistant Marshals--]Census of 1860," ibid., 154.

(45) This was true throughout the South. See Berlin, Slaves Without Masters, 221; Bernard E. Powers Jr., Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1885 (Fayetteville, Ark., 1994), 41; and Lebsock, Free Women of Petersburg, 101.

(46) Schenck Reminiscences, 127. Beginning in 1847, Mary Cruise applied for and was granted liquor licenses almost every year until her application was rejected in 1854. Chapter 107 of the revised Code of North Carolina that year made it illegal for free blacks to sell alcohol to slaves or free persons. "Revised Code of North Carolina," Chapter 107, 1854, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 399; entries for September 11, 1847, September 8, 1848, September 7, 1849, January 9, 1850, September 6, 1851, September 9, 1853, and December 8, 1854, in "Wilmington Town Minutes," 12, 29, 47-48, 51, 76, 111, 143.

(47) 1850 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-432, reel 638, frame 594.

(48) Berlin, Slaves Without Masters, 97.

(49) "New Hanover County, North Carolina, Tax List, 1836," typed transcript (North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Public Library).

(50) "New Hanover County, North Carolina, Tax List, 1815 & 1845," typed transcript (North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Public Library).

(51) 1850 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-432, reel 638, frames 593-612; Curry, Free Black in Urban America, 267.

(52) 1850 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-432, reel 638, frame 608. Because Sampson's wealth skews the mean, the median might be more informative. The median wealth in real property of Wilmington's free blacks in 1850 was $700.

(53) On Sampson, see 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907, p. 381. This increase was evident throughout the upper South. See Schweninger, Black Property Owners, 63, 72, 125.

(54) The median wealth in real property in 1860 was $600. 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907.

(55) Personal property was first reported in the 1860 census.

(56) The median wealth in personal property in 1860 was $200. t860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907. On Sampson, see ibid., p. 381.

(57) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653. reel 907.

(58) Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 159; Franklin, "Free Negro in the Economic Life of Ante-bellum North Carolina [Part 2]," 372-73; 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907.

(59) 1850 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-432, reel 638, frames 593-612; Curry, Free Black in Urban America, 268; Christopher Phillips, Freedom's Port: The African American Community of Baltimore. 1790-1860 (Urbana, 1997), 99, 154.

(60) 1850 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-432, reel 638, frames 593-612; Curry, Free Black in Urban America, 44 (quotation), 269. Suzanne Lebsock reports that in Petersburg, Virginia, 45.9 percent of the free blacks who owned real estate in 1860 were women. Lebsock, Free Women of Petersburg, 103-4.

(61) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907.

(62) Carter G. Woodson, comp., Free Negro Owners of Slaves in the United States in 1830, Together with Absentee Ownership of Slaves in the United States in 1830 (Washington, D.C., 1924).

(63) Ibid., 25; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 236; Darin J. Waters, "Black Slaveowners in North Carolina in 1830: Testing the Woodson Thesis" (Master's thesis, North Carolina State University, 2001), 2, 82, 87-88, 90, 93, 99-101; Reaves, "Strength through Struggle," 460.

(64) Waters, "Black Slaveowners in North Carolina," 109-10.

(65) Solomon W. Nash Sr. last will and testament, September 15, 1838, December 1846 Term, Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of New Hanover County; Beeler, "Solomon Nash," n.p.; Bishir, "Black Builders," 440n54.

(66) Compiled from Manuscript Census Returns, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, New Hanover County, North Carolina, Schedule 2, Slave Population, NAMS M-432, reel 654, frames 256-99.

(67) Ibid. Similar racial patterns were evident elsewhere. See Larry Koger, Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860 (Jefferson, N.C., 1985), xiii; and Powers, Black Charlestonians, 50.

(68) 1850 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-432, reel 638, frames 593-612; 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907; Volume 4, African-American Family History, Series 1, William Reaves Collection (North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Public Library); Reaves, "Strength through Struggle," 415.

(69) "Emigrants to Liberia," New York Daily Times, November 29, 1852, p. 2; "List of Emigrants," African Repository, 29 (January 1853), 25; "List of Emigrants by the Ship Elvira Owen," African Repository, 32 (August 1856), 250-51.

(70) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907. On the Campbell family, see ibid., p. 340; and on the Larrington family, see ibid., p. 373.

(71) Williams, Self-Taught, 13: Leonard P. Curry, "Free Blacks in the Urban South, 18001850," Southern Quarterly, 43 (Winter 2006), 35-51; Russell, Free Negro in Virginia, 144; Luther Porter Jackson, Free Negro Labor and Property Holding in Virginia, 1830-1860 (New York, 1942), 19.

(72) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907. Census enumerators in 1860 asked residents over the age of twenty if they were illiterate. While a question about illiteracy was also included on the 1850 census form, local enumerators did not complete that information for Wilmington's free black population. Christopher Phillips reports that only 45.1 percent of the free blacks over age thirteen in three Baltimore wards were illiterate in 1860. More educational opportunities existed in Baltimore than Wilmington. See Phillips, Freedom's Port, 163-68.

(73) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907.

(74) U.S. Census Office, Population of the United States in 1860, Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census, under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior (Washington, D.C., 1864), 350-53; U.S. Census Office, Statistics of the United States, (Including Mortality, Property, &c.,) in 1860: Compiled from the Original Returns and Being the Final Exhibit of the Eighth Census, under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior (Washington, D.C., 1866), 508.

(75) U.S. Census Office, Population of the United States in 1860, pp. 350-53; U.S. Census Office, Statistics of the United States, (Including Mortality, Property, & c.,) in 1860, p. 508.

(76) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907.

(77) "An Act for the better Care of Orphans, and Security and Management of their Estate," 1760, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 50-51; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 129, 165.

(78) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907.

(79) Sterkx, Free Negro in Ante-Bellum Louisiana, 268; Curry, Free Black in Urban America, 148; Carter G. Woodson, Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830 together with a Brief Treatment of the Free Negro (Washington, D.C., 1925), li (quotation).

(80) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907.

(81) Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 168; Reaves, "Strength through Struggle," 74, 144; Curry, Free Black in Urban America, 155; Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, 403; Phillips, Freedom's Port, 167.

(82) Browning, "James D. Sampson," 56; Watson, Wilmington. North Carolina, to 1861, p. 141: Reaves, "Strength through Struggle," 460.

(83) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907, p. 381. John Hope Franklin found the presence of free black children in school to be "one of the most puzzling problems in the history of antebellum North Carolina." Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 169.

(84) 1860 U.S. Census, New Hanover County, N.C., Free Inhab., NAMS M-653, reel 907, p. 380.

(85) Debate of June 12, 1835, in Debates of the Convention of North-Carolina, Called to Amend the Constitution of the State, which Assembled at Raleigh, June 4, 1835 ... (Raleigh, 1836), 72. This debate was reprinted in People's Press and Wilmington Advertiser, July 8, 1835. See also North Carolina Constitution, 1835, in Byrd, Against the Peace and Dignity, 265; Franklin, Free Negro in North Carolina, 113, 115, 192-93; and Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, pp. 128-29.

(86) People's Press and Wilmington Advertiser, November 6, 1835.

(87) John B. Boles, ed., Masters and Slaves in the House of the Lord: Race and Religion in the American South, 1740-1870 (Lexington, Ky., 1988); Charles F. Irons, The Origins of Proslavery Christiania.. White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill, 2008), 153-58; Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (New York, 1978), 136-38; Berlin, Slaves Without Masters, 286-87; Curry, Free Black in Urban America, 174-75. As elsewhere in the South, societal restraints and/or financial limitations precluded the establishment of separate black churches in Wilmington until after the Civil War.

(88) Reaves, "Strength through Struggle," 94.

(89) Records of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, Wilmington, North Carolina (North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Public Library), microfilm.

(90) Ibid.; Browning, "James D. Sampson," 56.

(91) Reaves, "Strength through Struggle," 74; Berlin, Slaves Without Masters, 286.

(92) Across the South, free blacks "preferred the evangelical sty|e of the Baptist[s] and Methodist[s]." Berlin, Slaves Without Masters, 299 (quotation), 66.

(93) See, for example, entries dated September 1839; March 20, 23, April 13, May 4, July 3, 1842; July 27, August 31, 1845; July 26, November 29 1846; January 31 March 28 October 31 November 28, 1847; and March 26, 1848, in "First Baptist Church, Wilmington, North Carolina (1833-1847): Church Minutes, History Sketch, Official Records," typed transcript, pp. 6, 9-11, 38-39, 45, 47-49, 51-52, 54 (copy at Duke University Libraries, Durham, N.C.).

(94) See, for example, entries dated October 26, November 30, December 28, 1845; January 26, September 27, October 25, 1846; and May 30, 1847, ibid., 40-42, 46, 49.

(95) Entries dated November 30, 1845; and January 26, 1846, ibid., 40 (first quotation), 42 (second and third quotations). See also entries dated January 2, May 26, 1845; February 22. 1846; and June 27, 1847, ibid., 16, 37, 42-43, 50.

(96) Reaves, "Strength through Struggle," 74, 125 (quotation); St. James Episcopal Church, Wilmington, North Carolina, Historical Records, 1737-1852, typed transcript (North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Public Library).

(97) History of St. Paul's Episcopal Church (North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Public Library), microfilm. See also vestry minutes, June 9 1858, in St. Paul's Episcopal Church Records (North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Public Library); Reaves, "Strength through Struggle," 126; and Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, p. 141.

(98) Court Order, June 1828 Term, Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of New Hanover County.

(99) State v. Green Harriss, December 1846 Term. ibid.; State v. Lewis Martin, Fall 1848 Term, Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County.

(100) Wilmington Journal (weekly edition), August 19 (quotation), November 4, 1859; and April 21, May 17, November 1, 1860; State v. William Tubbs, William Summers, John Williams, and Thomas Lanfield, Fall 1859 Term; State v. William Tubbs and Thomas Lanfield, Spring 1860 Term; and State v. William Tubbs, Fall 1860 Term, all in Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County.

(101) State v. Edmund, April 1833 Term; and James Sampson v. M. N. Leary (executor of Solomon Nash Sr. estate), Fall 1853 Term, both in Minutes of the Superior Court of New Hanover County.

(102) Wilmington Chronicle, July 1, 1846 (first and second quotations); Wilmington Journal (weekly edition), May 1, 1857 (third quotation).

(103) William Kellogg to [William McLain?], October 6, 1852, Records of the American Colonization Society (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), microfilm, reel 68. This was also true in Charleston. See Powers, Black Charlestonians, 71.

(104) Interview with John H. Jackson, in George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. Vol. XV: North Carolina Narratives, Pt. 2 (Westport, Conn., 1972), 3 (first quotation); Clarence Major, ed., Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang (new ed.; New York, 1994), 479 (second quotation). See also Berlin, Slaves Without Masters, 271. Throughout the South, the majority of free blacks who owned slaves were mulattoes. See David L. Lightner and Alexander M. Ragan, "Were African American Slaveholders Benevolent or Exploitative? A Quantitative Approach," Journal of Southern History, 71 (August 2005), 535-58, esp. 538.

(105) Franklin, "James Boon," 166; Russell, Free Negro in Virginia, 159-60; Schweninger, Black Property Owners, 89-90.

(106) Wilmington Weekly Commercial, December 13, 1850.

(107) Wilmington Chronicle, October 26, 1842.

(108) John Hope Franklin, "The Free Negro in the Economic Life of Ante-bellum North Carolina [Part 1]," North Carolina Historical Review, 19 (July 1942), 239-59 (quotation on 246). See also Schweninger, Black Property Owners, 63.

(109) Plagued by frequent fires, the town encouraged free blacks to serve in the local fire company and rewarded those who did by forgiving their tax liability. See Schenck Reminiscences, 125; and entry for April 5, 1847, in "Wilmington Town Minutes," 8.

(110) This was, of course, not unique to Wilmington. Slaves and free blacks elsewhere in the South provided essential "labor that white men and women found odious." Ira Berlin, "Southern Free People of Color in the Age of William Johnson," Southern Quarterly, 43 (Winter 2006), 9-17 (quotation on 13). See also Russell, Free Negro in Virginia, 146, 154-55; and Berlin, Slaves Without Masters, 192, 240, 378, 380.

MR. ROHRS is a professor of history at Oklahoma State University.

TABLE 1
RACIAL COMPOSITION OF WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA'S POPULATION,
1820, 1840-1860

                   1820            1840

Total Blacks   1,535 (58.3%)   2,819 (59.4%)
  Free           102  (3.9%)     356  (7.5%)
  Slaves       1,433 (54.4%)   2,463 (51.9%)
Total Whites   1,098 (41.7%)   1,925 (40.6%)
Total          2,633           4,744

                    1850           1860

Total Blacks   3,683 (50.7%)   4,350 (45.5%)
  Free           652  (9.0%)     573  (6.0%)
  Slaves       3,031 (41.7%)   3,777 (39.5%)
Total Whites   3,581 (49.3%)   5,202 (54.5%)
Total          7,264           9,552

NOTE: No data is available for Wilmington for 1830. Percentages
for free and enslaved blacks are  percentages of the city's total
population.

SOURCES: Census for 1820 (Washington, D.C., 1821), unpaged;
Compendium of the Enumeration  of the Inhabitants and Statistics
of the United States, as Obtained at the Department of State,
from the Returns of the Sixth Census (Washington, D.C., 1841),
40-42; U.S. Census Office, The  Seventh Census of the United
States: 1850. Embracing a Statistical View of Each of the States
and Territories ... (Washington, D.C., 1853), 308; U.S. Census
Office, Population of the United  States in 1860, Compiled from
the Original Returns of the Eighth Census, under the Direction of
the Secretary of the Interior (Washington, D.C., 1864), 359.

TABLE 2
OCCUPATIONS OF FREE BLACK POPULATION OVER AGE FIFTEEN IN WILMINGTON,
NORTH CAROLINA, 1850 AND 1860

                   1850           1860

Professional     0              0
White-Collar     1  (0.80%)     0
Skilled         64 (51.20%)   108 (48.65%)
Semiskilled      8  (6.40%)    82 (36.94%)
Unskilled       44 (35.20%)    27 (12.16%)
Apprentices      8  (6.40%)     4 (1.80%)
Unclassified     0              1 (0.45%)
Total          125            222

NOTE: These occupational divisions are based on Theodore
Hershberg et al., "Occupation and  Ethnicity in Five
Nineteenth-Century Cities: A Collaborative Inquiry," Historical
Methods  Newsletter, 7 (June 1974), 174-216.

SOURCES: Tables 2 through 6 were compiled by the author from
Manuscript Census Returns, Seventh Census of the United States,
1850, New Hanover County, North Carolina, Schedule 1, Free
Inhabitants, National Archives Microfilm Series M-432, reel 638,
frames 593-612; and/or Manuscript Census Returns, Eighth Census
of the United States, 1860, New Hanover County, North Carolina,
Schedule 1, Free Inhabitants, National Archives Microfilm Series
M-653, reel 907.

TABLE 3
OCCUPATIONS OF FREE BLACK POPULATION OVER AGE FIFTEEN IN WILMINGTON,
NORTH CAROLINA, BY GENDER, 1860

                   Male          Female

Professional     0              0
White-Collar     0              0
Skilled         63 (60.58%)    45 (38.14%)
Semiskilled     17 (16.35%)    65 (55.08%)
Unskilled       20 (19.23%)     7 (5.93%)
Apprentices      4  (3.85%)     0
Unclassified     0              1 (0.85%)
Total          104            118

SOURCE: See Table 2.

TABLE 4
WEALTH IN REALTY AMONG FREE BLACK POPULATION IN WILMINGTON, NORTH
CAROLINA, 1850 AND 1860

                      1850          1860

$1-499             10 (31.25%)   15 (34.88%)
$500-999           13 (40.62%)   16 (37.21%)
$1,000-1,499        3  (9.38%)    5 (11.63%)
$1,500 and above    6 (18.75%)    7 (16.28%)
Total              32            43

SOURCE: See Table 2.

TABLE 5
WEALTH IN PERSONALTY AMONG FREE BLACK POPULATION IN WILMINGTON,
NORTH CAROLINA, 1860

$1-299           54 (64.29%)
$300-599         22 (26.19%)
$600-899          7 (8.33%)
$900 and above    1 (1.19%)
Total            84

SOURCE: See Table 2.

TABLE 6
LITERACY RATES AMONG FREE BLACK POPULATION OVER AGE TWENTY IN
WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA, BY OCCUPATION, 1860

                       Literate     Illiterate    Total

Skilled               38 (45.24%)   46 (54.76%)    84
Semiskilled           21 (33.33%)   42 (66.67%)    63
Unskilled              6 (26.09%)   17 (73.91%)    23
No occupation given   32 (33.33%)   64 (66.67%)    96

SOURCE: See Table 2.
Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)
Rohrs, Richard C. "The free black experience in antebellum Wilmington, North Carolina: refining generalizations about race relations." Journal of Southern History 78.3 (2012): 615+. Academic OneFile. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.
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